This past July, right before she was about to go onstage at the Miss Idaho competition, a contestant named Sierra Sandison, who suffers from diabetes, was nervous and conflicted about wearing her insulin pump in such a public arena.
What sealed the deal? A conversation with a young girl.
Backstage at the competition, Miss Idaho's Outstanding Preteen McCall Salinas asked Sandison what was in her pocket. "I said it was an insulin pump, and she replied, 'Oh gosh. I am diabetic too.' She told me that she was too scared to get a pump herself, because she didn't know what people would think or if they would say she looked weird," says Sandison, who has Type 1 diabetes and has been wearing her pump for about a year and a half.
At that moment, I thought, no matter what the audience thinks, no matter what the judges think, no matter what my fellow competitors think, I have to go out here and show her that I'm confident with this pump on so that she can be too.
So Sandison proudly wore her insulin pump in the opening part of the competition. "I was so excited to be an example for her that by the time of the bikini competition I didn't really think about it anymore," she explains. And at the end of that night, Salinas told her mom that she wanted to get an insulin pump.
And suddenly the photo of Sandison wearing her insulin pump attached to her bikini was inspiring millions. "I would never have dreamt of posting a swimsuit picture on social media," she wrote on her Facebook page, "but diabetics from all over the country have been asking to see me and my insulin pump on the #MissIdaho2014 stage."
Honestly, it is terrifying walking out on stage in a swimsuit, let alone attached to a medical device. My message to everyone, diabetic or not, is that we all have something that doesn't "measure up" to the beauty standards set by the media -- and that is okay! It does not make you any less beautiful. I have faced my fear of proudly showing my insulin pump! Now I want to see YOURS!
Sandison invited others to post photos wearing their insulin pumps on social media. What resulted was a deluge of thousands of inspiring photos of people in 25 different countries (and counting!) with their pumps. "I didn't know it was going to mean that much to people," said Sandison, who was humbled by the colossal response.
Sandison, who was crowned Miss Idaho 2014 and is competing in the Miss America Pageant this Sunday, shared more of her story with me. To read about Sandison's decision to wear her insulin pump and how it changed her life, click on this story in Parade.